Dry eye is a common condition that occurs when the eyes are insufficiently lubricated, leading to itching, redness and pain from dry spots on the surface of the eye. The eyes may become dry and irritated because the tear ducts are not producing a sufficient number of tears, or because there is a chemical imbalance in the tears themselves. Natural tears require a particular chemical balance in order to lubricate the eyes efficiently.
It is important for patients with this condition to take special care of their eyes in order to alleviate symptoms and prevent complications. Left untreated, the bothersome symptoms of this condition may result in damaged vision. Ophthalmologists can diagnose dry eye after a thorough examination of the eyes and a Schirmer tear test to evaluate tear production.
Causes of Dry Eye
People usually begin experiencing dry eye symptoms as they age, but the condition can also result from certain medications, medical conditions or injuries. Dry eye tends to affect women more often because of the hormonal changes that take place during pregnancy and menopause. Oral contraceptives can also affect the consistency of tears. Dry eye is more common in people over the age of 50. Other causes of dry eye may include:
- Antihistamines, decongestants, or blood pressure medications
- Rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, Sjogren's syndrome, thyroid disease
- Environmental conditions such as smoke, wind, or excessive sun
- Long-term contact lens use
- Eye injury
- Eye or eyelid surgery
- Inflammation of the eye (conjunctivitis or keratitis)
Any of these factors, alone or in combination, can affect the frequency or consistency of tears, either of which can lead to dry eyes.
Symptoms of Dry Eye
The symptoms of dry eye typically occur in both eyes. These symptoms may include:
- Eyes that sting, burn, or feel scratchy
- Eye fatigue
- Sensitivity to light
- Difficulty wearing contact lenses
- Excessive tearing
- Blurry vision
Dry eye can damage eye tissues, leaving tiny abrasions on the surface that can impair vision. Fortunately, many treatment options are available to relieve the symptoms of dry eyes, restore eye health and protect vision.
Treatment of Dry Eye
Treatment for dry eye depends on the cause and severity of the condition, as well as the patient's overall health and personal preference.
Nonsurgical treatments are most often effective, and may include:
- Deliberate blinking
- Increased humidity levels at home or work
- Use of artificial tears or a lubricating ointment
- Avoidance of environmental irritants
- Elimination of medications that may be responsible
- Addition of Omega-3 fatty acids to the diet or as supplements
In many cases, simple lifestyle changes are all that is required to alleviate the symptoms of this uncomfortable condition.
If less invasive methods are unsuccessful, surgical treatments may be an option. These may include:
It is important to treat dry eye because, left untreated, the condition can lead to complications, including pain, ulcers or scars on the cornea, or even a loss of vision.
- Insertion of punctal plugs to limit tear drainage
- Punctal cautery to permanently close the drainage holes
- Eyelid surgery, if an eyelid condition is causing the problem
- Treatment of an underlying disease
Preventing Dry Eye
There are steps patients can take to prevent the symptoms of dry eye from occurring. Simple lifestyle modifications such as wearing protective glasses on windy days, giving the eyes a break during reading or other tasks require intense focus, can effectively reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms.